Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angel Parts Three and Four, page 4
Miska’s voice fell silent. Her agitation was made manifest.
After a bit, she said, “Alas, my business is at Fisher Lagoon’s. That is where I must first go.”
Clucking disappointment on the inside, Sai Fung suggested, “Then I shall show you the way.”
“That won’t be necessary. I must wait here for my traveling companion.”
“Pardon my asking, but who might that be?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
That made Miska’s connection to the baron crystal clear. While they were aware that a second carriage accompanied Byron Balazs’s, they hadn’t known the identity of its occupant.
“But look at the flames. Are you sure they’ll make it through?”
Silent up until now, Zanus interrupted at this point, saying, “And you then intend to enter Krauhausen with him?”
Miska fell silent. Although she had no direct connection to the matter, Byron and his escort definitely had hostile intentions toward Vlad Balazs, and entering the latter’s domain in their company would be too risky.
As if he could see into her troubled psyche, Zanus said, “As I recall, the proprietor of Fisher Lagoon’s is one ‘Taboo’ Horton. He and I go way back.”
Used by confidence men in the Capital who preyed on girls fresh off the Frontier, the trick was as old as time, and Zanus himself seemed somewhat doubtful of whether or not it would work.
“Ah, that’s a different matter, then,” Miska said with delight.
In every society there were innocent hothouse flowers that would wilt with the first cold wind—and apparently even the Nobility were no exception.
“Arrange a meeting with him for me right away. Can you do that?”
“As you wish. However, at the moment he’s off in the eastern part of the Frontier on business, though he’s scheduled to be back within a day or two. Until then, perhaps it would be wisest to stay with Dr. Brosmen.”
“Indeed. Let’s do that, then,” Miska said, assenting with the greatest of ease.
No sooner had she entered the village of Krauhausen than all the strain of the battle up until now began to work against her. Though she was somewhat forlorn, the real reason she was taken in so quickly by the pair’s honeyed words was because she’d led the life of a princess. Normally having nothing but scorn for humanity, the Nobility didn’t believe they could be deceived by their inferiors, and thus were prone to being caught off guard. This was the fundamental reason why the humans had been able to rise en masse against them. And that was how Miska came to be separated from the baron. But there may have also been another reason, known only to her.
It was dusk when the white carriage arrived at Dr. Brosmen’s mansion—or just a little before. Claiming that the plains were dangerous, the pair urged her to make the trip at top speed. But in their hearts, they were motivated by the thought that the baron and D might make it through the flames. When the white carriage halted and its door opened, it wasn’t surprising that the two men gasped in astonishment. The pale beauty who stepped down was followed by a timid yet unmistakably human pair, and girls at that. They finally realized the other reason Miska had agreed to accompany them.
“Do what you will with those two. It’s been a long journey.”
And saying this, Miska entrusted the pair to Zanus before she began to leave with Sai Fung.
“As soon as I have any word on Taboo, I’ll get in touch with you, perhaps even as early as tonight,” Zanus called out to her.
After going through a number of gates, they were passing through the garden when Sai Fung asked, “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” Miska replied in a slightly irritated fashion.
“Then forget I asked. I just thought that perhaps you might still be concerned about those two girls.”
“Don’t be absurd. Why would I care?”
“First of all, it’s rather unexpected to have a human come out of a Noble’s carriage. Even more so when it’s members of the fair sex coming from a Noblewoman’s vehicle. Lady Miska, I can’t help wondering if perhaps you’ve grown fond of those girls.”
“Sai Fung, spewing any more of that nonsense will be—unpardonable!”
“Yes, milady. Begging your forgiveness,” the man known as “Sai Fung of the Thousand Limbs” said, tensing as if from a jolt of electricity. That was the effect the Nobility had.
“I was thinking that you might be a liar. Look. This garden is positively a shambles. And that tower up ahead of us is even worse. It’s like the lair where some sorcerer leers down at the world below. You’re not trying to mislead me, are you?”
“No—not on your life!” Sai Fung said, swinging a long hand in front of himself dismissively.
Actually, the garden of this mansion he’d said even a Noble would find passable was truly desolate. Long ago, it must’ve been impressive in scale and elegance, but the shrubbery had died off, and the marble paths and fountains were so sadly blanketed in dead and rotting leaves you could make out the layer of humus. What’s more, there was an unpleasant miasma flowing from God-only-knew-where and the smell of chemicals, both of which assailed Miska’s far superior olfactory sense and repeatedly left her on the brink of gagging. This was clearly a place of egregious death and decay. And the symbol of that was the tower that menaced the heavens—the same structure that’d just stopped Miska in her tracks. No, having seen the gigantic tree that the Dark Water Forces had used as their base, the scale of it wasn’t amazing, but the general lack of glass windows and the antennae jutting out in all directions like countless horns—along with fragments dangling from them that could’ve been either cords or netting—all oozed a ghastly aura that was not to be rivaled. There was something here beyond imagining.
But seeing that even Miska, a Noble with that species’ typical paucity of fear, was ready to freeze in her tracks, Sai Fung grinned in his heart of hearts. Both he and Zanus were de Carriole’s personal soldiers. The only reason they’d become known as servants of Vlad Balazs was because de Carriole had loaned them to Vlad. And they had led Miska not to Vlad’s castle but here because their first duty was to their true master. Using this woman, perhaps he might be able to do something about Byron Balazs. Lord Vlad would then come to hold de Carriole in even greater esteem, and as his servitors, the two of them would also rise in stature.
“Although this may be an overwhelming place, I assure you the master knows how to treat Nobility. Please, step this way.”
Sai Fung put his hand to the massive front doors. True to form, the squeal of the hinges rang out like an agonized shriek, and once the doors were open, the pair was blasted by air that carried an eerie tinge. Though it was heavy with the smell of chemicals, the atmosphere wasn’t completely intolerable.
As they stood there swathed in a murky light, an old man in a gown appeared from nowhere in particular with a candlestick in hand. His upper body was so hunched over it hung parallel to the floor. The eyes set in his mummylike face were shut so tight it seemed like he didn’t need the candlestick at all, but once he’d stopped a few steps shy of Miska, those same eyes snapped open and emitted a weird light.
“This is our master—”
“De Carriole is the name.”
His voice, like a snarling cold wind blowing out of the netherworld, made Miska forget that his name wasn’t the same one Sai Fung had told her, so it wasn’t until a few seconds later that anger suffused her countenance.
“That’s not the name I was given. You’ve tricked me!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. That was merely a bit of forethought to relieve your tension, madam,” Dr. de Carriole said in a vapid, murky tone.
Though Miska wasn’t familiar with the name de Carriole, Sai Fung and Zanus thought that since she’d been with Byron awhile, she might know about him. Anyone who knew his father Vlad knew that de Carriole was the feudal lord’s confidant—an extension of him, so to speak. The mere mention of his
“What are you?” Miska inquired.
“One who serves Vlad Balazs.”
“What?!” she exclaimed, turning to Sai Fung and glaring at him with a red gleam in her eyes. Her eyebrows and lips rose instantly. The pair of fangs that poked from her mouth left the woman’s Noble and vampiric nature on display.
“Cease this,” the old man said in a low voice.
Turning back to him, Miska peered into his eyes. The Noble red glow in her eyes swiftly faded. Holding her gaze as she swayed unsteadily, Miska then bent her knees a bit and prepared to pounce on the old man. But something delivered a short, firm tap to her shoulder. The old man’s cane. That alone left Miska immobilized, as if she’d been turned to stone.
Swiftly pulling his cane back, de Carriole then jabbed it into the woman a little to the right and above the ample swell of her left breast.
Sai Fung gasped aloud. The cane had gone right through the pale beauty’s chest and poked out through her back without the slightest resistance.
Miska didn’t move at all. All emotion and vitality were gone from her face.
“Which of the two has become insubstantial, the young lady or my cane?” de Carriole muttered in a disturbing tone. “So nice of you to sell out the granddaughter of someone to whom you were once so indebted.”
His words of praise could’ve also been taken as a dire condemnation. It was unclear what the old man made of Sai Fung worrying his lip as he looked down at the floor. But employer or not, it was strange that the fighting man didn’t show the slightest hint of anger at that remark.
“As for the young lady—since she was traveling with Lord Byron, she should certainly be brought to Lord Vlad. However, before we do that,” the old man said, peering into the paralyzed beauty of her face, “there’s something that intrigues me. This face also holds the face of something else that lurks within her. However, exactly what that is—”
And then, the old man turned to Sai Fung and said in a tone that made the man swallow hard, “I thought that to find out what that other thing is, we might pit it against you—how about it?”
“Fisher Lagoon’s” was a towering mansion at the western extreme of the village of Krauhausen. In terms of scale, it was a far cry from the castle Vlad Balazs kept in the center of town, but on the other hand, it was every bit as opulent. Every night, richly colored lamps lit more than a hundred windows, while everything from the strains of classic instruments like the violin, harp, cello, and oboe to electronic music patterned after that of the Nobility flowed serenely from the structure. No expense had been spared in procuring the finest furnishing, food, and drink from the Capital—to say nothing of the supple women. The village of Krauhausen maintained the greatest stock of “resources” in the region, and it was for this reason that it had a constant stream of visitors, not only from neighboring villages, but from far across the Frontier as well. Actually, the entire mansion was a huge entertainment center—an enormous pleasure palace.
In one room of the building filled with coquettish female tones and reeling with the aromas of alcohol, perfume, and expensive cigars, Taki and May sat across a great black table from a giant of a man with only one eye. This was the man who’d lent his name to the establishment—one Fisher Lagoon.
Behind the two girls, Zanus leaned back against a section of wall by the door and kept a frosty gaze trained on all three. Before they’d been seated here, he’d told the two girls, “The owner of this place is quite prominent. And he has a deep sense of morality on top of that. If you explain your circumstances to him, I’m certain he’ll sympathize and agree to help you.”
And now, as the giant scrutinized them thoroughly, his good right eye gleamed with apparent lechery as he declared, “Good enough. Fifty thousand for the older one, and thirty for the other.”
It was “the other”—May—that suddenly stood up. Whipping around to face Zanus by the door, she jabbed a finger in the giant’s direction and said, “You tricked us! He’s nothing but a slave trader!”
Shrugging, Zanus replied, “Well, there’s not much we can do about that. Just tell yourself it’s better than winding up with that Noblewoman.”
The second Zanus smirked, May’s face flipped right in front of his eyes, both of her feet slamming right into the bridge of his nose before she used that as a springboard to fly at Lagoon’s face.
At the same time the girl was being plucked out of midair, Zanus gave a shake to his head, a stream of blood trailing from his nose.
“What are you doing?! Let go of me!” May shouted.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? Stop it!” Taki exclaimed as she fought to restrain the girl’s wildly thrashing hands and feet.
What was it she feared?
On the far side of the big desk sat Fisher Lagoon’s massive form, the giant looking on with clear amusement but not moving a muscle. It was only when Zanus took both girls by the scruff of the neck and dragged them back to their chairs that any emotion stirred in the giant’s face, which had the same dark sheen as worn leather.
“Knock it off,” he said in a voice that somehow called to mind the growl of a carnivore.
“These little bitches are out of line,” Zanus said, putting his hands on the shoulders of both. His fingers didn’t exactly sink into them, but neither May nor Taki could move in the least. “Mister Lagoon, let’s forget the whole deal. The only thing that’s gonna satisfy me now is to hang the two of them from Madison Bridge.”
“Sorry, but since we’ve already set the price, they’re my property now. Get your hands off them. Now, take this and go, will you?”
A thin gold bar was placed on the table.
“No, save it. I wanna make these bitches listen to their own necks snapping.”
“Zanus,” the giant said, his eye vested with a terrible gleam.
But Zanus didn’t respond at all. “You ready to see your whole place wrecked on account of these two?” he asked in a soft tone.
Smiling thinly, the giant remarked, “Vlad would be heartbroken, I’m sure. Over the loss of such a good subordinate, that is.”
“Fine,” Zanus replied, letting his white teeth show. “Show me a little more sincerity, then.”
The giant’s hand slid across the tabletop, and three more bars of gold appeared.
“Thank you. That’s what I’d expect from the owner of a place like this. You really know your way around. Well, they’re all yours, then.”
Taking his hands off the girls’ shoulders and collecting his bars of gold, Zanus then departed in high spirits.
Now left alone with the giant—Fisher Lagoon—Taki and May remained frozen in their seats. Ordinarily, the act of taking the two of them from Zanus should have lent him some humanity or perhaps earned him some gratitude, but as he sat there before them, the intensity that radiated from him in some ways surpassed that of Zanus.
“We were tricked, you know. Let us go,” Taki said.
Without changing his expression in the least, he declared gravely, “I paid more for you two than I intended. And you’ll have to work it off. We get all kinds of folks here. Out of them all, we’ll give you the kind of clients new girls have the hardest time with to get you used to the work.”
Running his eyes over the list of names on a screen set in his desk, he said, “Tonight, it’ll be—oh, is that Mister ‘Porky’ I see? And then there’s—”
Here his breath escaped him. On their first day, the two “new girls” got to see something rarely witnessed by anyone: a look of fear on Fisher Lagoon.
When D and the baron arrived, the village was dissolving into the twilight. However, it was bright. Blindingly so. Along the streets, torches and atomic lamps glowed warmly, while tables and cha
“Strange place, isn’t it?” the baron said to the Hunter. “On all the vast Frontier, this is the only place where villagers enjoy such a vibrant nightlife while their feudal lord remains in power. It’s been this way ever since I left.”
“When was that?” asked D.
“There is no sense in our kind speaking of time,” the baron replied, but after saying this, he smiled wryly. “Pardon me. I can’t help but keep thinking of you as a Noble.”
“That’s a laugh!”
Narrowing his gaze, the baron asked, “Did you say something?”
D tightened his grip on the reins with his left hand and replied, “No.”
Getting the feeling he’d heard a tiny cry of pain, the baron strained his ears, but he heard nothing further.
“Should you happen to be concerned about the two girls, there’s a hotel called the Rivers Inn if you turn right at the fourth intersection. Take a room there. I’ll give you more information as it becomes available.”
This meant that their journey would end at that point.
In less than two minutes they arrived. It was just an ordinary intersection.
“I’m in your debt,” the baron said, handing D a heavy sack. “There’s what we agreed upon. See you.”
D said nothing, but halted his horse, as if watching his employer’s back to the very end. The dark carriage passed by without a sound. After watching it melt into the darkness at the end of the road, D turned right at the street corner.